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Immersive Virtual Reality games to improve cervical motion in Axial Spondyloarthritis

School of Science

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Dr J Connolly No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA) is a chronic inflammatory rheumatic disease that causes inflammation and structural changes to the skeleton. Patients with axSpA suffer from neck pain and stiffness and have severe and permanent restrictions in movement. Patients are advised to carry out prescribed exercises to maintain mobility, but most do not comply with this advice due to the unnatural nature of head and neck stretching exercises. Clinicians currently only test cervical rotation of patients with axSpA a few times per year. Pain and stiffness can fluctuate between appointments, and there is a need to accurately measure patient’s spinal mobility at home.

Virtual Reality (VR) headsets have been proven to be accurate and reliable when measuring neck movement. Implementing VR in this study will be used to aid relaxation, promote mindfulness, whilst moving their head to visual and auditory cues to enable completion of exercises. In this study we will test whether a smartphone enabled system could be feasible for measurement of cervical movement at home.

The proposed research will have a positive impact on the lives of patients suffering from axSpA. Regular measurement and assessment of spinal mobility at home will be beneficial to patients and clinicians for objective mobility measurement. Implementing VR as both a distractive and rehabilitation encouragement technique could improve patient engagement whilst simultaneously collecting granular mobility data. And implementing VR rehabilitation using smartphone technology will offer an inexpensive method of exercise and effective rehabilitation.

Project development to date
In 2016, a research award from FOREUM ( https://www.foreum.org/pSpA_10_imuaxspa.cfm ) brought together an international group of researchers with expertise in research in biomechanics, IMU analytics together with doctors and physiotherapists with expertise in axial spondyloarthritis. The aim of this group was to carry out a series of studies to validate the clinical use of sensors to monitor spinal mobility in the clinic and at home. The initial studies in the project have validated the accuracy and reliability of sensors when used in the clinic, and substantial datasets have been collected relating to home testing over a 24-hour period. These tests included standardised functional tests that could be used to monitor function in the home setting - but automating the extraction and analysis of these test segments will require the use of AI techniques. The ‘iMaxSpa’ group of interested researchers includes several experts with experience in IMU analytics. See

Funding Notes

Stipend € 12,000 p.a.
Materials/ Travel € 1,750 p.a.
Fees N/A

Candidate Qualifications/Requirements
• Candidates should hold a 2.1 Honours Degree or higher in a Computing-related discipline.
• Consideration may be given to those holding equivalent qualifications, e.g. a Lower Second-Class Honours Degree in Computing plus a Master’s Degree with Distinction in Computing.
• Experience in developing virtual-worlds or games for Virtual Reality systems such as Unity is desirable, as is experience writing research papers or technical reports.
• Applicants are required to demonstrate a high level of competence in the English language and meet the Institute’s English Language Requirements
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